Dec 9, 2004

Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004: Second Reading


9 December 2004

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.11 a.m.) —I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to the debate on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004. When we talk about water efficiency and especially about the supply and use of fresh water, it is worth remembering a few important facts. Some 97.5 per cent of the world’s water is salt water and is unfit for human use. The majority of fresh water is beyond our reach, locked in polar snow and ice. Less than one per cent of fresh water is useable, amounting to only 0.01 per cent of the earth’s total water. This could be enough to support the world’s population three times over, but only if used with care.

Water, just like population, is not distributed evenly. Asia has the greatest annual availability of fresh water and, disturbingly, Australia has the lowest. Australia’s rainfall is the lowest of the continents, excluding Antarctica. This low rainfall, combined with very high evaporation, leads to low river flows. Despite this, Australia has one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world. While two-thirds of all the people on earth use less than 60 litres of water a day, the average Australian uses more than twice that amount during a single shower—something we should all think about in our personal lives.

Access to clean, safe water is fundamental to public health and our quality of life. Australians expect that, when we turn on our taps, the water that comes out will be clean and safe. That expectation is deeply ingrained in our way of life. We take it for granted, but many people in the world cannot. However, Australia’s growing population, combined with our drought-prone climate, means that we simply have to learn to do more with less. Indeed, we are likely to have droughts more frequently if the predicted effects of global climate change kick in. Nevertheless, I am hopeful. I believe Australia can become one of the most water efficient communities in the world; however, we all have to rethink where water comes from, how it is used and how it is reused. Water shortages in New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia in recent times have shown us that the efficient use of water is not simply a response to the current drought. It is an essential step in learning to live with less water without compromising our way of life.

There are no simple solutions to our water shortage. What is needed is a multifaceted approach that combines new sources, new efficiency measures and innovative ways of reusing our waste water. Clearly, water use is one of the key environmental challenges for Australia. Indeed, after climate change, I think it is the most serious issue. There have been manifestations of this in recent times. Over in Perth, there are plans for a desalinisation plant costing an estimated $350 million, simply because there are no local sources of water to meet that city’s water needs. In Adelaide, a great deal of work is being done on salt interception schemes around the Murray River. These schemes are aimed at preventing the deterioration of Adelaide’s drinking water. The work is pretty important because, if nothing is done, by the year 2020 Adelaide’s water will not meet the World Health Organisation guidelines on two days out of five. Just think about that: on two days out of every five in Adelaide—a major capital city in Australia—the water will effectively be undrinkable according to international standards, unless we act.

Melbourne was on stage 2 water restrictions for most of 2003. Sydney’s problems with water have a very high profile. I know the issues all too well. In Sydney we cannot use sprinklers or watering systems at any time and there are restrictions on washing cars, filling pools and general watering of gardens. As of last Thursday, Sydney’s main water supply, Warragamba Dam, was only filled to 43.4 per cent of its capacity. Everyone in Sydney knows water use is a serious issue. The question of water use and water efficiency that is before us in the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 is a very serious challenge facing this nation.

The purpose of the bill is to provide for the establishment and operation of a scheme to apply national water efficiency labelling and minimum performance standards to certain water use products. The aim of water efficiency labelling is to encourage the uptake of water efficient products and appliances in domestic and commercial areas. This bill’s objects are to conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption, to provide information for the purchasers of water use products and to promote the adoption of efficient and effective water use technology. It provides for the establishment of a national water efficiency labelling and standards scheme to be implemented cooperatively by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. It provides for penalties to be put in place for those who fail to comply with the registration, labelling and minimum efficiency and performance requirements and for an enforcement regime. It is estimated the bill will reduce consumption of water in households and non-residential buildings by five per cent by 2021.

This is an objective which the Labor Party supports, but in fact we determine that it is an inadequate objective. We need to do much more. We really need to use water better and reduce our consumption of water in households and non-residential buildings by five per cent in a much shorter time frame. We need to reduce water consumption much more rapidly than by 2021. It is also expected that there will be some greenhouse gas reductions through reducing water heating associated with these measures. The legislation is being funded from savings identified in the Measures for a Better Environment package and it picks up on recommendation 4 of the Senate inquiry into urban water use.

It is my understanding that those who have been consulted, including the product suppliers and retailers, have actively supported the introduction of this scheme. It addresses the mandatory labelling of most water use products, but in relation to mandatory performance standards it only applies to toilet use. It is the view of the opposition that the legislation is weaker than it could have been, that the environmental benefits would not be fully realised and that there is a case for standards to apply much more broadly. It is the view of the Labor Party that water efficiency performance standards ought to apply to more water use products. It is for that reason that I will be moving, as a second reading amendment:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that the Government:

(1)has failed to deliver water efficiency standards for indoor water use products other than toilets, forgoing a significant opportunity to reduce household water consumption even further; and

(2)should be condemned due to the failure of the Measures for a Better Environment package, from which funding has been drawn to finance this Bill, to deliver environmental outcomes”.

We make these points against the background that Australia is one of the highest per capita consumers of water in the world. In Australian households, each person uses around 350 litres each and every day, yet our national reuse of effluent is just 14 per cent. If we could do more to reclaim and reuse stormwater, treated sewage effluent, treated industrial discharge and grey or household waste water, we would be in a much better position to deal with shortages and it would boost our environment and indeed have economic benefits as well.

An integrated approach which considers all sources of water available to urban areas is needed to achieve a significant improvement in water use efficiency in urban areas. Reclaimed water can be used for a whole range of purposes, such as irrigation of city parks and sports ovals, industrial applications and cooling water. Surplus floodwater can be used to recharge natural aquifers, and safe, treated urban effluent can be used on crops. There are many other uses besides. The government should be working with the states and territories to improve water quality and the environmental outcomes of urban water management. The government should be investigating incentives for promoting stormwater and wastewater reuse and the integration of these issues in strategic planning of urban areas. The government should be using the COAG process to implement national initiatives to promote water saving measures such as rainwater tanks, water saving showerheads and tap fittings, dual flush toilets and increased use of grey water.

Another area I want to mention in relation to urban water use is the research effort. The Commonwealth research effort in this crucial area has largely dried up. The government should be renewing the role of the Commonwealth in research and development in irrigation, water reuse and innovation. Promoting water reuse research will yield many dividends including better design and value from experimental projects and monitoring, covering gaps, integrating project results, ensuring quality control and disseminating information effectively to those who need it. Establishing an urban water research program would support innovation in reuse of stormwater, reuse of effluent, water conservation, water sensitive urban design and urban water planning and management practices.

The government should establish a national program of research to promote sustainable water use in Australia with a particular focus on water reuse. This is a very significant challenge facing Australia in relation to domestic water use. Domestic households account for around 16 per cent of the consumption of mains supplied water in Australia. That is the second largest share of mains water use after the agricultural, forestry and mining sectors, as you might expect. Per household, the amount of water used for indoor purposes appears to be reasonably similar across many of Australia’s larger capital cities. The main indoor use is showering, which accounts for around 29 per cent of indoor consumption, followed by toilet flushing and washing machines, which each account for about 26 per cent. Taps over baths, sinks, handbasins and laundry tubs account for 18 per cent and dishwashers account for one per cent.

In terms of overall domestic consumption, it is worth noting that the amount of water used for outdoor purposes varies considerably between cities, with Perth using five times as much per household as Sydney, although some of the Perth supply comes from bores rather than main sources. I think both sides of the chamber might take this up with our Western Australian colleagues, because it certainly surprised me that there was such an extraordinary difference between the east and the west coasts of the continent.

Between 1996 and 2001, the supply of water to households in the main urban areas of Australia increased at around 3.4 per cent per annum. According to information from the Water Services Association of Australia, water consumption in two state capitals is already beyond the safe yield level, meaning that additional supplies or effective demand measures are required immediately. According to the association, three other capitals will be beyond the safe yield level between 2012 and 2020. That is a very serious situation and it requires action.

Back in December 2002, a Senate committee completed an inquiry into Australia’s management of urban water. The committee commented extensively on the issue of urban demand management, saying that there is considerable scope to reduce water use and achieve efficiencies so that water efficient appliances such as dual flush toilets, low flow showerheads, washing machines and dishwashers can dramatically reduce water use in homes. This approach can be coupled with water efficient gardens, minimal lawns and the use of native plants and efficient watering systems. The committee found that the fundamental factor in a successful demand management program was changing behaviour away from habits such as hosing down driveways and gutters, watering lawns during the heat of the day and having long showers.

So, what will be the impact of the labelling scheme which is provided for in the bill? According to modelling undertaken in developing the regulatory impact statement, the impact of the labelling component of the scheme will be to reduce total household water use by about five per cent by 2021, as compared with the `business as usual’ approach. No modelling has been done for the introduction of efficiency standards across all of the six products that were considered: washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, showerheads, taps and urinals. The regulatory impact statement suggests that, for water users, the cost of water-efficient products will most likely be higher, but consumers will benefit from a net saving because water bills will be lower.

The regulatory impact statement also considered manufacturers and importers, noting that labelling will come into force 12 months after the regulations under this bill are finalised. Consultations with manufacturers and importers indicate that this notice period will be enough to ensure that products are labelled correctly. As water efficiency labelling has an influence on consumer preference, the extent to which the sales of various manufacturers and importers are affected will depend on the water efficiency of their product ranges; manufacturers and importers that offer only products of low water efficiency will obviously be disadvantaged.

Retailers that carry at least some water efficient models should be advantaged. Those that specialise in low-cost products with low water efficiency will be disadvantaged. As the awareness of water labels is likely to build up over time, retailers should have ample time to sell their old stocks and order in more efficient models from a water perspective. The regulatory impact statement also says that the impact of water efficiency labelling on plumbers and builders is likely to be gradual. Plumbers and builders will still be free to select or recommend products irrespective of water efficiency, as many do now, and will be able to remove the water efficiency labels before end users see them; however, the labelling requirement should assist those plumbers and builders who take an interest in, or seek competitive advantage from, advising clients on water and energy efficient products.

We need to involve as many people in the community as possible. We particularly need those in the trades who supply these products to be very conscious of doing their bit by supplying products which minimise water use. We need to promote a culture which encourages consumers to use those products which in the longer term are necessary if we are not to go down the road of being in an increasingly precarious position with regard to the supply of fresh water. There are already programs under way to raise plumbers’ awareness of water product efficiency, including the GreenPlumbers program, run by the Master Plumbers and Mechanical Services Association of Australia, which gets some funding from the Greenhouse Office. I congratulate them for that.

It is also worth noting that the introduction of water efficiency labelling for various indoor water use products is expected to have only a modest effect on household consumption, and that effect will take some time to materialise. The requirement for labelling foreshadowed by the bill is a positive step, but it is only one aspect of managing the demand for water by Australian households. In this context, it would certainly be worth while for modelling to be done on how the introduction of compulsory water efficiency standards for other products, like new showerheads and new washing machines, would affect household consumption.

In conclusion, water is a very substantial challenge for Australia. It is a substantial challenge for our environment. It is a substantial challenge to get our water use right in rural areas and to maintain healthy river systems. It is also a substantial challenge to get our water use right in urban areas, to take action concerning ocean outfalls, to lift our water reuse and recycling and to reduce our water demand so that we can have sustainable practices in our cities and our rural and regional areas. Against that background, we support the legislation. However, we do not think it goes far enough. The opposition believe the government ought to be acting with a great sense of urgency. In our second reading amendment we indicate that the government ought to be delivering water efficiency standards for a range of indoor water use products and that it ought to be taking up what is a significant opportunity to reduce household water consumption. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House is of the opinion that:

(1)the Government has failed to deliver water efficiency standards for indoor water use products other than toilets, forgoing a significant opportunity to reduce household water consumption even further; and

(2)the Government should be condemned due to the failure of the Measures for a Better Environment package, from which funding has been drawn to finance this bill to deliver environmental outcomes.”

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the amendment seconded?

Ms George —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.